Winners are the authors of history; by virtue of their victory they earn the right to perpetuate their side of the story. The conquering heroes and celebrated warriors that one culture holds in high esteem very likely hold the contrary reputation somewhere else. It's that desire -- to make fate a matter of course, a manifest destiny -- that ennobles men to become the legendary, real-life warriors. These are men whose accomplishments and bravery have stood the test of time, defined their cultures and inspired the generations that followed them.
Julius Caesar was the greatest military commander of Roman history because of genius in strategy, tactics, and combat operations. Julius Caesar was a general, a statesman, and a dictator who founded the Roman imperial system. Caesar had a successful military career because he was a brilliant strategist, a clever tactician, and an inspirational battlefield commander. His primary campaigns were the Third Mithridate War from 75 to 65 BC, the Gallic War from 59 to 51 BC, and the Roman Civil War against Pompey the Great from 49 to 45 BC. His principle battlefield engagements were the battle of Bibracte in 58 BC, the battle of the Rhine in 55 BC, the battle of Alesia in 52 BC, the of Ilerda in 49 BC, the battle of Pharsalus in 48 BC, the battle of Zela in 47 BC, the battle of Thapsus in 46 BC, and the battle of Munda in 45 BC.
Caesar formed the first triumvirate with Crassus, his former mentor, and Pompey in 59 BC. He became the proconsul in Gaul and he accomplished popular reforms before he took up his military post. He defeated and killed 30,000 Helvetian warriors at the battle of Arar in June 58 BC and at the battle of Bibracte in July 58 BC, where he halted their migration. He defeated the German invasion of central Gaul under Ariovistus in September 58 BC.
Caesar campaigned against the powerful Belgae warriors in northern Gaul; he crushed their main confederate army with superior Roman tactics and discipline at the battle of Axona in May 57 BC. Later, he barely defeated the aggressive Nervii warriors at the battle of Neuf-Mesnil with critical support from Titus Labienus in July 57. He campaigned in western Gaul 56 BC, where he defeated the Venetian Navy during a difficult naval and amphibious campaign with the support from warships built by Decimus Brutus in June 56 BC.
Caesar defeated an incursion by the Germanic Usipetes and Tenetri at the Rhine in May 55 BC. He then crossed the Rhine to ravage the lands of their allies in June. He launched an invasion into Britain with two legions (10,000 men) in late August 55 BC, but his efforts were frustrated by unfriendly weather conditions, but he returned to Britain with five legions (25,000 men) and 2,000 cavalry in early July 54 BC and he persuaded Cassivelaunus to surrender following a short campaign.
Caesar returned to Gaul to deal with the widespread unrest there; he campaigned against the revolution of Eburones under Ambriorix, who massacred a Roman legion at Aduatuca in December 54 BC. He defeated the Euburones in January 53 BC, and he prevented a revolution by the Nervii tribes when he devastated their lands during a bitter winter campaign in 53 BC. With similar tactics, he forced the Senones and Carnute in central Gaul to submit; he returned north to ravage the fertile lands of the Treveri and Menapi, and he later crossed the Rhine again to devastate the lands of their German allies during the autumn of 53 BC.
During the advent of Vercingetorix’s revolt in 52 BC, Caesar with a few troops maneuvered Lucterius’ Gallic Army out of Narbo before undertaking a difficult winter campaign to reach and assemble his legions in the north; he put down unrest among the Aedui during the siege of Gergovia in May; he pursued the Gauls vigorously following a minor cavalry battle and surround Vercingetorix at Alesia; he built two rows of entrenchment fortifications and contravallations surrounding the hill region of Alesia, which frustrated Vercingetorix’s relief attempts by his allies. This tactic force Vercingetorix to surrender in October 52 BC and finally bringing to an end the Gallic revolt against Roman domination. Caesar continued his campaigns against the remaining Gallic warriors and captured Uxellodunum in July 52 BC.
In 50 BC, after his conquest of Gaul, Caesar prepared for war with his rival Pompey the Great; he led his battle harden army across the Rubicon into Italy, which was an illegal declaration of war against the Roman Republic. This deed was accompanied by his celebrated words “the die is cast.” When the Roman civil war occurred, he successfully defeated Pompey’s Army and other opposing forces after several decisive campaigns, where he employed superior battlefield tactics against the enemy.
In 47 BC, the Senate proclaimed Caesar “dictator.” Two years later the Senate named him Consul for life. Under Caesar the Roman Senate had less power. He reformed the Roman tax code and created the Julian Calendar. These actions caused Brutus and Cassius to organize a conspiracy. Since the conspirators believed that Caesar had destroyed the Republic, they assassinated Caesar in Rome on 15 March 44 BC.
Caesar was a charismatic and unrelenting personality. He was a skilled politician, administrator, writer, and military commander. He demonstrated great precaution during military campaigns to avoid surprise while his forces were on the march; he was the greatest military commander of Roman history because he was endowed with a strategic, operational, and tactical mind, enhanced by his inspirational orations before any major campaign. The name Caesar has echoed down through history from the days of the early Roman Emperors to the era of Russian Czars and German Kaisars. Today the European world is seeking a new Caesar to lead the European Union.
William Wallace was a fiercely loyal Scottish landowner who willingly defied the bullying of the English nobles on behalf of his countrymen. He later led a wildly outnumbered and unprofessional army against well-trained advancing English forces in the Battle of Stirling Bridge, turning contemporary rules of engagement on their heads and earning a Scottish knighthood in the process. His success as a warrior was, however, short-lived; he won skirmishes here and there but lost the Battle of Falkirk and eventually become an English prisoner. He was hanged and then, while still alive, he was drawn and quartered.
Leonidas, the king of Sparta, is renowned today for having lost the defining battle of his life. He led a band of 300 Spartan warriors against an impossibly huge Persian army at the Battle of Thermopylae. Although overcome, their valor inspired Greece to repel the Persian army within a year. This courageous yet suicidal last stand cost Leonidas his life but ensured him a measure of immortality.
Yue Fei was a 12th-century Chinese warrior who modeled his character on the legendary warriors who came before him. As a warrior, he waged ferocious battles in defense of the Southern Song Dynasty against the invading Jurchen of the Jin Dynasty. He fought with the full measure of dedication, so much so that many of the details of his exploits -- as well as the particulars of his personal life -- have become mixed up with supernatural stories of his birth and other mythmaking tactics. Nonetheless, to this day, Fei remains an icon of patriotism in Chinese culture.
Depictions of Robin Hood tend to reflect the prevailing cultural mores, and there is an endless debate over his origins. Was he originally known as Robyn Hode or Robert Hod? No matter, within a century of his time, a variation of his name, "Robhod" had become a synonym for lawlessness and for openly challenging authority. Some even believe that Robin Hood was a merciless, horseback-riding warrior who fought bravely and with incredible distinction in the Crusades alongside Richard the Lionheart.
Attila the Hun was the great unifier of the many nomadic Hun tribes in the 5th century. He struck fear into the hearts of the Romans, who referred to him as "the scourge of God" because his reputation for barbarous cruelty easily preceded him. Attila mercilessly stomped across the Balkans and much of present-day Europe, erasing some cities and towns from existence. His armies reached the gates of Rome and he can be fairly credited for doing his part in bringing about the fall of the once-mighty Roman civilization.
Minamoto no Yoshitsune was a 12th-century samurai warrior whose incredible feats in battle, during what became known as the Gempei War in Japan, led to the downfall of the ruling clan, the Taira, and allowed for the emergence of his own brother, Minamoto Yoritomo, as the first of the shoguns. Part of his legendary status is derived from having defeated the warrior monk Saito Musashibo Benkei in a duel. Yet, Yoshitsune is also remembered as a tragic hero, since not long after securing power for his brother, that brother had him assassinated.
The great Carthaginian warrior Hannibal Barca was, like his father, dedicated to harassing Rome, and his incredible talents as a tactician and strategist gave him an ongoing edge over Roman generals for a generation. Plus, he likely would have achieved the unthinkable and conquered Rome had he not run into General Scipio Africanus. Still, Hannibal's most astonishing feat as a warrior has to be his success at leading a massive army -- which most famously included elephants -- on foot over the towering Italian Alps to surprise and overwhelm Roman outposts.
A 7th-century companion of the Islamic prophet Muhammad known as the "Drawn Sword of God," Khalid ibn al-Walid was one of the most brilliant and successful military commanders in world history. He is credited with being the first to unite Arabia; as a military tactician and strategist he has few peers, and as a warrior he went to his grave undefeated in any battle, large or small.
King Alexander III of Macedon is without doubt among the two or three greatest warriors in world history. Alexander the Great's accomplishments before his untimely death at age 32 are astounding: leading campaigns through Persia, Syria, Judea, Egypt, and Mesopotamia, to name just a few. He ascended to the Macedonian throne at age 20 on the heels of his father's assassination, and went on to become one of the most successful warriors in history, never once losing a battle.
This great Mongol leader's domination as a warrior, warlord, leader, and progenitor are unparalleled in history. To found the Mongol empire, Genghis Khan led his armies from Japan to Iran, leaving behind an estimated death toll in the tens of millions. Such was his virility, though, that research published in the American Journal of Human Genetics in 2003 suggested that as much as 0.5% of the current male population is descended from Khan..
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